Cut! Suit alleges Sunset cops violated Bushwick filmmaker’s rights

Caught on film: Bushwick-based filmmaker Justin Thomas is suing the NYPD for alleged false arrest for filming outside of the 72nd Precinct and the theft of one of his memory cards.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Talk about getting carded!

A Bushwick-based filmmaker is suing the police department, claiming Sunset Park cops illegally arrested him for recording footage of their station house in April — and then confiscated his camera’s memory card to cover up the evidence.

School of Visual Arts student Justin Thomas said he was wrapping up his thesis documentary on Sunset Park with a couple shots of the 72nd Precinct’s Fourth Avenue headquarters at 11 am on April 19, when a sergeant came out and told him he needed a permit to tape there. Thomas said that when he informed the officer that the law gave him the unconditional right to film city property, the cop slapped the cuffs on him and took his camera away. Thomas was indignant at his arrest.

“I knew I had the right to record a public building from a public street,” he said.

Thomas said the police held him for three hours and charged him with “obstruction of governmental administration” — charges which the district attorney’s office later declined to pursue.

The aspiring auteur’s attorney said cops returned his camera without the memory card containing the recording of Thomas’s interaction with the sergeant — a move the counselor claims was an attempt to hide proof of improper police conduct.

“The idea there was clearly to eliminate evidence of an unlawful arrest,” said lawyer David Rankin, best known for representing participants in the Critical Mass cycling protests.

Rankin said he was defending Thomas to take a stand for First Amendment rights, but said his client is also seeking an unspecified amount in restitution.

“We want to tell the NYPD that it’s completely inappropriate to arrest journalists and filmmakers in New York,” said Rankin.

The police department offered no comment, saying it had yet to process the paperwork on the lawsuit.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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